Research Program

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Political monuments remind us of historical events and express both the views of history and the political and moral self-perceptions of those who erected them. The viewpoints of the monument sponsors are influenced not only by the historical events that inspired them, but also by their subsequent history in which discourses and political practices on how to deal with that event have developed. The task of monument research is to undertake the empirical and historical reconstruction and analysis of the complex web of history, post-event history, and the present. In this context, monuments should be understood  as communicative actions by actors who pursue specific interests and intentions and who, by erecting the monument, seek to address an imagined audience. Monument research offers the opportunity to contribute to an analysis of the ways in which monuments come to terms with the past and thus to a critical examination of political culture.

The Research Group is currently working on government memory policy on National Socialism in the Federal Republic of Germany. The framework of the study is the lengthy history of government policy and the debates on ‘overcoming’ National Socialism and its consequences, reaching back into the immediate post-war years. The initial results comprise two studies focusing on the memory policy of the Kohl era. The first compares the five ‘national’ monuments erected in Berlin after 1989, commemorating the victim groups of the Nazi regime. The second discusses Helmut Kohl’s motives for lending his support to the so-called ‘Holocaust Memorial’ project. In order to situate his memory policy in the trajectory of German perceptions of their own history, the Research Group is at present working on a third study under the heading of ‘The narrative of the centre’. Proceeding from statements by Adenauer, it is attempting to reconstruct his image of Nazi history and ‘the Germans’.

In the longer term, the research group’s work aims to reconstruct memory policies from the beginnings of the Federal Republic of Germany. How federal policies dealt with the burdens of the past, what the government did and did not memorialize, and for what reasons, what political aims it pursued in each case, what role was played by changes in public discourse and in the attitudes of the electorate – these questions can be illuminated only in the broader context of memory and politics. The research group’s analyses aim to make a contribution to this discourse.